A conversation with Allagash 2021 guest artist Martha Cotter
Each year, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands welcomes guest artists to Baxter State Park and the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. The program presents exciting opportunities to learn more about these special places through the eyes of creative artists.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine’s Forests & Wildlife Director Melanie Sturm was thxplore the intersection of art and environmental protection by questioning the guest artists. Below is Mélanie’s interview with Allagash 2021 guest artist Martha (Marty) Kotter creating beautiful quilted artwork! Read the 2020 interviews here.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your art. What prompted you to follow this path? What captivates you about art? Was there a particular time when you realized you had a gift?
Art is something that I have always done to be happy. It’s meditative. Sometimes I express myself better with art than with words. My son is a poet who uses as few words as possible to describe his thoughts and feelings. Visual art can be so by finding the fewest lines, paint, fabric or stitching to capture the essence of an object and my feelings towards it.
I am drawn to nature for inspiration. In college, illustrating concepts and observations while studying biology clarified the content for me. After a career as a teacher in a public school and as a park naturalist, I pursue art full time. I am drawn to wild places, parks and wilderness areas for artist residences and retreats. In 2019, I enjoyed being the Artist in Residence at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness National Park in Michigan.
I make unique art quilts from hand painted silk. Silk gives a luminous shine and dynamism to my paintings. The quilting adds texture and dimension to the room. My work is figurative and prompts the viewer to take a closer look and ask questions. I promote an ethic of conservation in my work. There is value in preserving our wild places. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “… in the wilderness is the preservation of the world.”
What intrigued you about the Allagash Wilderness Waterway Visiting Artist program? Was this what you expected? Were there any specific challenges and rewards?
A family member from Maine pointed out the Allagash Wilderness Waterway website and the new guest artist program in 2020. We were in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, so I did not apply. After seeing that they completed the program in 2020, I applied in 2021 and was honored to have been chosen. I had never been to Allagash. I have been to Maine several times and have climbed Katahdin and backpacked the 100-Mile Wilderness. So I got a feel for the wilderness and isolation of the region.
The accommodation at Lock Dam was great. The cabin had solar panels so I could have light at night and a propane refrigerator so I could store fresh food for longer. You have to be prepared to be offline without internet or cell phone access, and that was fine for me. The nearest town, Millinocket, was about 80 kilometers away; on a dirt forest road it would take a few hours each way. I wasn’t ready to sacrifice this time, so I was prepared with two weeks of food for my stay.
The rewards were great. Loons often called at dawn. The ability to be totally immersed in my collection of ideas and images and to make art without outside distractions was wonderful. The park rangers were extremely helpful in bringing me clean water, taking me on excursions and getting me out of difficult situations.
Where did you go along the waterway? Favorite places?
I was based at Lock Dam on Chamberlain Lake. The rangers took me on a tour around Chamberlain Lake pointing to the historic sites of the old railway bridge, the location of the Chamberlain Farms and the Telos Dam. Later I was treated to a trip to Churchill Lake and a canoe trip down the Chase Rapids. My favorite trip was to Eagle Lake accompanied by the Eagle Lake Ranger. We visited the historical remnants of the logging tramway and the old railway built to transport logs.
Have you encountered any wild animals?
We saw loons and mergansers, bald eagles and a few distant moose on Eagle Lake. My closest wildlife encounter was with the moose on the forest path at dusk. The dives were often in the lake in the morning and evening near my camp. One morning I saw a bald eagle and an osprey flying over Chamberlain Lake. My best bird watching was a Merlin that flew out of the woods over the lake and returned to the woods. The lawn surrounding Lock Dam’s hut was full of leopard frogs leaping past you as you walked.
Were there any experiences during your time at Waterway that were particularly inspiring for your work?
One evening there was a brief thunderstorm, followed by a bright sun. Indeed, there was a rainbow above the dam of the lock. The clouds were even more spectacular. There was a stream of gray, swollen clouds from the west rising above the west side of the lake and descending on the east side. I captured this scene in my room, Storm Rising Over Lock Dam.
How do you think this experience will shape you and your work in the future?
Experiences like the Visiting Artist Program at AWW are wonderful for renewing my spirit and giving me creative inspiration. I look forward to doing more artist residency programs in the future.
Besides here on this blog, where can people see the artwork you’ve created on the Allagash?
Visit my website at www.martykotterart.com.
I also have an upcoming solo show in Columbus, Ohio. It is called “Reconnecting to the Earth” from February 18 to March 24, 2022, at the Loft Gallery of Columbus Cultural Arts Center.
Click on each image to see the life-size version of Martha Kotter’s quilted art